Friday, June 20, 2008

Houston Proud! HPL Central Library!

I staged a great escape yesterday. Instead of dutifully reporting to my office, I picked up one of my favorite traveling companions, Dr. Holly Weimar, and we headed for Houston. Our destination was supposed to be the newly renovated downtown library. On the way, I realized to my horror that I had left my Nancy Pearl action figure at home! I could not visit the library without one. I had recently seen her at Cactus Music and so we went by there first. Then on to the library by way of Whole Foods for a quick lunch. By the way, Houston area folks, if you were as sad as I was to hear of Cactus Music closing down, cheer up! The store is back in a new location, and very easy to reach not that far from their old digs.

After lunch, with Nancy in tow, we moved on to the library and had a great experience. They did an outstanding job of renovating. The floors are a lively orange/red color and springy. They feel like they are made of recycled tires, something like some walking tracks. Everything is new, new, new! There are computers everywhere. On the first floor there is someone standing at the entrance to welcome you. Our greeter was a library assistant, easily spotted as are all staff members, who wear bright red shirts. After she learned we wanted to see EVERYTHING she cheerfully waved us on. If we needed direction she would have provided it.

We had a great time on the first floor, where there are many computers, great displays, and fiction/biography sections. Also, on the left as you enter you will find the extensive music collection. Clearly this floor is first stop for most patrons. I was interested to notice that information desks were labeled CUSTOMER SERVICE and were very much out in the open and approachable. In fact, all librarians' desks were more like islands with space all around rather than the bastions of remembered days.

The 2nd and 3rd floors offered reference, and also the main stacks other than fiction/biography. Again you saw many computers and the same style of desks and counters from which patrons can receive help. Of course as you climb, the view out the windows improves.

The fourth floor is the one that has gotten a great deal of attention in newspapers and on TV broadcasts. On one side you find the children's area with wonderful shelves, furniture, and displays. There are also areas for electronics. One boy was using a wii for batting practice. This was fun to watch. In another area on the other side of the room, a gaggle of girls with a mom or two were enjoying Playstation karaoke. I did not take pictures in this area due to privacy concerns, but encourage anyone who can do so to go visit. I might add that visitors can walk through and take a look around, but then must leave unless they are with a child. This is, of course, for children's security and privacy.

The other side of the fourth floor is the teen room. This was the area I was most eager to see, and I was not disappointed. The electronics area is fantastic, with the sound pods which I show in a pic and a great area for playing games. There are also books, of course, and new, shiny, wonderful books at that. Snack and drink machines are also available with a sink nearby. The kids were in another room for a program when we were there, so we got to look around at our leisure. Otherwise we would again have had a VERY short visit, because Director Sandy Farmer made it clear that this was THEIR area and not to be intruded upon. One other neat feature was that the librarians' desks here were off to the side and behind beaded curtains. Thus the adults had the aura of being there/not there. Very clever!

All in all, I was very impressed and pleased to see my old friend back up and open again, and in such fine fettle. My one question was, where is the geometric mouse? Not to worry, the wonderful Claus Oldenburg sculpture has just been moved down to the corner of Smith and McKinney, which is actually a more prominent spot. It is newly painted and spiffy. My daughter and I were regulars at the HPL downtown back in the '80's, even though it meant a drive in from Spring Branch. She will be wanting to visit again when she is in town, especially for the music section.

I am again uploading pictures to flickr, this time of our visit and the great facility. Clicking on this entry title will take you to the pictures, and clicking there on detail will reveal my comments. Also, here is the link to HPL:
Want to see the mouse??

Fixin' to Read

When I visit a library or books store, I have a similar reaction to when I visit a dessert bar...I want everything! As my mother used to say, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or bookshelf as the case may be. Yesterday I treated myself to visiting the newly renovated Houston Public Library Central Branch in downtown Houston ( What a wonderful trip that was! I plan to devote another entry to the facility itself. But while I was there, I got the bright idea to take pictures with my iPhone of books that I picked up and wanted to take. I no longer have an HPL card, and am leaving town in a week anyway, but these are books that were on display and called out to me. I have uploaded the pictures of the covers to a my flickr site, with the group called "Fixin' to Read." If you are from Texas, you know that is how we say "planning" or "intending" to do something. The actual act could occur in several seconds, several days, or never. But it is something you are considering at least.

To see covers and brief comments, click on this blog entry title and get to my flickr page. Once there, if you click on "detail" you get the comments I made about each title. If you have read one of the books, I would love your comments!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reading about Mt. Everest Climbs is a Timely Topic

In today's Houston Chronicle there is a writeup about an astronaut who tried to reach the summit of Mt. Everest but failed to complete the climb. Not long ago it was all over the news that the Olympic Torch made its way to the top of Everest. Meanwhile, I just finished listening to an audio book, High Crimes, about the shady side of Mt. Everest's ever-increasing magnetism. Then the other dayI was visiting with friend and lit prof Dr. Rosemary Chance about the book and she mentioned that it would go along great with Into Thin Air and Peak. I have not read either, but I am sure that Into Thin Air goes into the dark side of Everest. Sadly, the lower slopes are now crowded with crooks, prostitutes, drug dealers, and scammers as well as climbers. Some guides and guiding companies make the climb sound like a walk in the park, and more and more people are attempting the feat of summiting with less and less experience, preparation, and physical fitness. The result is, among other things, a mounting body count as people make mistakes and fall, get lost, or just physically overextend and lose their lives.

The author of High Crimes has an ax to grind. The group that he and some others pulled together to comprise a Connecticut state climbing expedition turned out to be an assortment of incompatible individuals, some with less than laudable intentions. In fact, by the end of their time together, he and some others came to fear for their lives at the hands of certain group members who did not like them. His story is very convincing, and I took time to track down some of the online presences of people he termed troublemakers. His descriptions were accurate at least about their Internet claims. Reading this book as an exercise in sorting out fact vs. opinion would be a great lesson for that and also for bias with high school students. Beyond that, just learning about what is happening at Everest would probably elicit surprise and concern from environmentally conscious readers. I know it changed my views about Everest and made me wonder about recent exploits, including the Chinese ascent which smacks of a political statement at least as much as an Olympic feat.

At the same time I feel regret for Astronaut Scott Parazynski who clearly made an unselfish decision to turn back, and at the same time a wise decision. Another astronaut, Karl Henize, lost his life on the mountain.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Remembering Rebecca

Losing a student is never easy. In some ways it is analogous to a parent losing a just seems to fly in the face of your natural expectations. Our program lost a wonderful young woman this week. As her professor in several classes, I knew her as a hardworking, diligent student who was very active in class discussion. Then she joined my travel study group last summer. One of my greatest rewards of teaching this class is that I get to know trippers in a totally new way. I learned that Rebecca was funny and energetic, full of life, good natured, and a joy to be with. She was an organizer and invaluable resource when we were in New York City, since she had grown up nearby. If it had not been for Rebecca, we would not have gone to Yankee Stadium for a game, which turned out to be a high point of the trip. She and my daughter are exactly the same age. Too young to be leaving family and friends! In her case, this loss is compounded by the fact that she leaves behind a new baby daughter who will not get to know her, to hear her sing, to have fun with her. As I write this, her funeral is taking place. I just wanted her to know I was thinking of her at this very time.

Question o'day

Piggybacking someone else's query...James Lerman just asked this on EDTECH...what is the opposite of linear thinking? I thought I would toss this out as a question here. Whatever the opposite is, it is what I do. My thinking is very often, uh, scattered at best...